Farmers can be part of Smithsonian ag exhibit

smithsonian building

‘NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This spring, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is reaching out to farmers and agri-businesses to build a collection that reflects modern agricultural practices.

Curators are seeking stories, photographs and ephemera to record and preserve the innovations and experiences of farming and ranching.

The initiative is a partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation, announced earlier this year during the AFBF’s 94th annual meeting in Nashville.

First donation

The first donation will come from Tennessee Farm Bureau member Pat Campbell, of Cleburne Jersey Farm, a multi-generational dairy farm founded in the 1870s in Spring Hill, Tenn.

Campbell will give a selection of photographs, a computer cow tag and reader unit to show the change in dairying from a hand-labor intensive process to a modern computer-run operation.

The donation will also include his personal recollections about how changing technology has altered his work life and has led to greater efficiency and safety.

“The story of agriculture is important and complex,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “In Jefferson’s time, 96 percent of Americans were farmers; today, that number is less than 2 percent. Despite this drop, productivity has skyrocketed and agriculture has evolved into a technology-driven profession with the cab of a tractor akin to a traditional CEO’s office.”

March 19 web kickoff

Coinciding with National Agriculture Day on March 19, the museum will unveil a new Web portal where the public can upload stories about technologies and innovation that have changed their work lives; stories about precision farming, traceability, environmental concerns, governmental practices, irrigation, biotechnology and hybrid seeds.

For details, visit

This new collection will inform the upcoming exhibition with the working title American Enterprise, an 8,000-square-foot multimedia experience, focusing on the role of business and innovation in the United States from the mid-1700s to the present. It is scheduled to open in 2015.

The exhibition will explore the development of American agriculture through objects such as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, a 1920s Fordson tractor, Barbara McClintock’s microscope and Stanley Cohen’s recombinant DNA research notebook, which represent machines and innovation that increased productivity and science that gave insight to the genetic structure of plants. 

The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call 202-633-1000.


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